There’s a lot of talk these days about self-care. Self-care for moms, self-care for the working woman, self-care for teenagers. But we don’t hear much about stepmom self-care.
As many as half of all women in the U.S. may find themselves in the role of stepmother at some point in their lives. And although there is fairly limited research out there about stepmoms, what is out there shows that being a stepmother is tougher than being a stepfather. And that stepmothers have greater anxiety and depression than biological mothers.
Many stepmothers report being depressed after years of trying to please, appease, walk on eggshells, tip toe around the ex, their partner’s and stepchildren’s feelings while often neglecting their own. If they don’t love their stepchildren “as their own”, they feel guilty and evil themselves . . .
Mary Kelly, M.A.
Suffice it to say stepmoms are a generally underappreciated bunch. I’m a stepmom of four. I try to mostly keep a positive outlook, but I know how hard it is to keep my chin up when things get rough. Much less to make sure I do enough for myself.
And things do get rough. Blended families have a lot of family dynamics that simply don’t exist in a traditional family. Especially for stepmoms.
Even though we carry a huge load in the family, oftentimes we can feel like outsiders. And we can bear the brunt of kids’ anger. Even when it’s misdirected, we are often the easiest targets for them.
We worry about whether we are disciplining too much. Or too little. Or how to have consistency across households. Especially if it’s a high conflict situation.
In a perfect world, those dynamics wouldn’t affect how we treat ourselves. But I’m guessing you’re not living in a perfect world? Right, me neither. So we often put ourselves on the back burner while we take care of family, work, and just life.
But that’s not right, is it? For stepmoms or for biological moms. We need to stop neglecting ourselves and get on the self-care bandwagon. If you’re like me, exercising stepmom self-care did not occur to me when I joined the family!
I’ve been working hard to make taking care of myself a higher priority and have compiled a few ways to help get you started, too.
AND, p.s., if you want more than what I’ve got for you here, check out our stepmom self-care assessment below!
You won’t be any good to anybody if you’re sick all the time. And trust me, I know. I have long had a tendency to push myself past my boundaries for as long as I could and then collapse with a flu bug or something else that kept me in bed for days.
I finally realized it was my body telling me I was doing too much. This isn’t a stepparenting thing, this is a human thing. Your body can only take so much abuse. Long hours at work, trying to be the perfect stepmom or mom, little sleep, junk food.
You simply can’t go on like that forever. One way or another, your body will tell you you’ve had enough. And will shut you down. And it’s not healthy.
So take a pause and think about your routine. Your nutrition. And your exercise. Try to get it in check.
Ask Yourself What Relaxes You.
What Do You Enjoy Doing? Take some time and really think about it. When you are at your most relaxed, what is it you’re doing?
For me, the answer was easy. it’s pedicures. I find that I’m rarely more relaxed when I’m sitting in that chair, feet getting massaged, then prettied up.
It’s also the beach. There’s nothing more relaxing for me than sitting in a beach chair, toes in the sand, reading a book. It’s relaxing me just thinking about it! But living in the DC area, I just can’t get to the beach regularly. So until I can, pedicures will do.
Maybe for you it’s taking a hot bath. Or reading a good book. Maybe you like to sit outside. Or just have a night completely off.
Sit down and try to write down 5 things that just make you feel good and make you forget your stress.
Then Do Those Things. Regularly.
When I was single, I made time for pedicures on a pretty regular basis, even when I was super busy. But when I got married, I stopped getting them as often.
Life had gotten nuts. Between work, soccer and baseball games, doctor’s appointments, and just life, it was really hard to keep up.
And I also felt a bit selfish spending money on something that is truly just for me rather than for the family. Or maybe I just felt a bit guilty spending a couple of hours doing something for myself when I could be bonding with my new family.
Ladies, we have got to get over that. For real. When you’re relaxed you’ll be much better at doing for your family and for others. Fact.
My husband Craig is beyond supportive of me making this time for myself. He knows how much I love it and when he knows I’m stressed, he encourages me to go get my toes done.
Not because he wants my feet to always be gussied up. (although looking at my feet right this moment, I wouldn’t blame him if he begged me to go get them done!)
But he knows that I really do need to pay attention to myself and to do the things that relax me. Even when I don’t always recognize it.
And you do, too. An hour away from your family won’t kill them. Or you. It will ultimately benefit everyone because you’ll come back a bit more refreshed and energized. And with a little more pep in your step.
Say Thank You.
I don’t mean thanking everyone you come across. I mean gratitude. Stepparenting comes with a lot of burdens. There are challenges co-parenting, scheduling, discipline. There’s just a lot that can go wrong on any given day.
But if we can take a minute to think about the things that go right? It will help us shift and reframe our attitude. And maybe approach the things that go wrong just a little differently.
I use a gratitude journal and find that the act of writing down positive things that happen or positive feelings really impacts me.
It helps me look at every challenge in a different way. Instead of groaning about how hard it will be, I look for ways to tackle it.
Writing about gratitude also helps give me a bit more understanding of and patience towards others. As my attitude has shifted to a more positive place, I have found I deal better with unreasonable people than I used to.
I think you’ll find that when you cultivate thankfulness, your negative thoughts will seem easier to displace. And you, too, might feel calmer when you’re dealing with someone difficult.
If you have an Apple watch, you will get regular reminders to do a minute of deep breathing. How often do you actually do it versus pressing the button that makes the reminder go away?
If you don’t have a fancy watch, how often do you take a minute to just breathe deeply? I’m guessing not often.
You don’t have to be a meditation guru to do it either. All you have to do is find a quiet space and spend a few minutes breathing in for several seconds and out for several seconds. Even five minutes a day will help you feel better.
Spend Time With Girlfriends.
One of my biggest struggles is making sure that I see my girlfriends regularly. Between work and family schedule, travel, and just life, there are times that I’ll realize that it’s been months since I’ve seen my closest friends.
The great thing about girlfriends is that true friends will forgive you for letting life get in the way. Just like you forgive them for their lives getting in the way. And when you do finally get together, it will be like no time has passed.
But here’s the thing – girlfriends are healing. And when you can spend time with them, it will not just take your mind off of all the stressors in your life. You can vent to them. You can laugh and cry, and exist in a no-judgment zone.
There really is no substitute for time with your girls. Make time at least every couple of weeks to catch up with them.
Step Back And Step In.
Look at what you do on a daily basis. Write out all of your daily and weekly tasks. Including the mundane. How much of what you do is busy work? How much of it might you offload to your spouse or your kids? Or that you could cut out completely?
Since we are stepmothers, let’s call this taking a “step back” from some of our busywork so that we can take a “step in” to some self-care.
Once you cut out a few things, then add in some of these self-care routines I’ve suggested.
Make Self-Care Part Of Your Daily Routine. And Commit To It.
I don’t mean hitting up the spa every day. Although, trust me, if I had an unlimited bank account and all the time in the world? Count me in on that routine.
But seriously, for any parent, most of your day is devoted to caring for and about others. It’s easy to let days on end go by without thinking about what YOU want to do.
But most especially for us stepmoms.
We have added pressure different from that of biological parents. We worry about being accepted. Being considered part of the family. How we are perceived and treated at school and sporting events. Whether we can even do this parenting thing. It can feel like you’re in an Instant Pot that’s about to blow.
So – you need to work in a little time for you every day. Stepmom self-care.
What does this look like? It could be a long bath. Or meditation. Or putting down the phone and reading or doing a devotional for a few minutes before bed.
Whatever it looks like for you, you need to focus on yourself just a little bit every day.
We’ve put together a stepmom self-care assessment for you. You can find it here. It takes just five minutes and will help pinpoint the areas that you need to focus on adding in more self-care. I really hope you’ll try it.
Now, go take a minute for you. For some stepmom self-care.
You deserve it.